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Maker Movement Takes Off in Texas

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Denny Hammil created a toy that lets your dog fetch without you.

Storytelling and authenticity are changing the way consumers choose products.

After a long career in technology, Denny Hamill was ready to retire and take it easy. Then his grandson came to him with a problem: a dog named Prancer.

"Grant was 16, and he was trying to do homework," Hamill says. "And everybody plays with Prancer, throws the ball, and Prancer would constantly would bring it back and drop it at Grant’s feet and bark!"

Hamill set to work making something to satisfy Prancer’s insatiable need to fetch. "We actually took a little hot wheels set, you know the cars, so they have this little accelerator so the car comes around, it grabs the car and shoots it," Hamill says. "So we took it apart and made a little ball thrower." A couple prototypes later, they had the iFetch

Hamill's dogs won't fetch, but Prancer loved it. Hamill figured other dogs would too.

The challenge is that a lot of gadgets don’t really sell well on store shelves. Andrew Gershoff teaches marketing at the McCombs School of Business.

"There are some products right away you can look at and you can know what that product is," Gershoff says. "Then there’s these other types of products that we might consider more 'experience products' that are harder" to understand without playing with them, he says.

Without the demonstration, you might mistake the iFetch for a humidifier. It kind of looks like a big sphere with a hole. Hamill can’t afford to pay people to do in-store demonstrations, which might have stopped him from getting off the ground. "Now with the internet, it’s much easier to interact with a large number of people and to broadcast that information at a very low cost," Gershoff says.

But there is overcrowding in the market. With so many gadgets out there, how do you know what’s a legitimate lifehack and what’s just junk? Joanne Domeniconi says she can help. She started a company called The Grommet - two million people subscribe to its daily newsletter. "Every day we create a video story about a product discovery that might interest you," Domeniconi says. "And you’re able to learn the story behind the product who made it and why it might be relevant for you."  

The Grommet posted this video for the iFetch.

The Grommet’s $200 million in sales last year are due to its niche business strategy as part online retailer and part marketing firm. "We work on a retail margin. We buy the merchandise at a wholesale cost, and we sell it at a retail cost," Domeniconi says. "And similarly, we are paid for performance and we’re paid a commission for the customers that we acquire for the maker, that would be new retailers."

Because these gadgets come from small family-owned companies, they can’t compete on super low prices. Online marketplaces say storytelling and authenticity are driving the maker movement.